42+ Ways to Save Money for a Family Vacation

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For many families, what stops them from taking the family vacation of their dreams is their wallets. They think they can’t afford a vacation so they don’t even plan. There are many ways to travel on limited funds. Travel doesn’t have to break the bank and there are ways to save cash up front, without putting the trip on a credit card! I’m sharing dozens of tips on how to budget and save money for a family vacation.

Kids Can Save Money for Disney

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Want to Save Money for a Family Vacation?

Travel brings so much joy, adventure and memories to families. I can safely say that most of our happiest family memories are from our vacations. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. So why aren’t you taking a vacation? What is truly stopping you from planning and going on that dream vacation? And if your answer is “money”, here are a few ideas to consider.

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Even as a family on a tight budget, we’ve found that there are many ways to make a vacation happen. No matter what your funds look like, there’s a getaway that fits within your spending limits. Keep reading for the ways you can make those all-important vacations happen with these money saving tips.

Planning Your Vacation Time

Before you book those vacation packages, you’ll want to figure out your approximate travel budget. With a goal in mind on how much cash you’ll need, making cut backs and budgeting is achievable. Ideally you want to be able to pay for the entire trip up front, without putting the vacation on a credit card. 

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You’ll also want to give yourself enough time to save. Are you saving for next year’s vacation? Or are you saving up for travel that’s farther out? How much will your vacation cost? Once you know how much you might want to spend on the trip, break it down by the number of months until you travel. This will give you an idea how much you’ll need to save each month. 

My travel partner Get Away Today offers convenient layaway on Disneyland vacations. They also offer additional services including trip insurance, days free and travel concierge as well.  Whether heading to Walt Disney World for the first time, Hawaii,. Southern California or on a cruise, Get Away Today is a great place to start planning your travel with kids!

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom with a toddler standing in front

Cutting Back on Day to Day Savings

Naturally your day-to-day spending can make or break whether you have extra vacation money or not. And each family has their own spending habits on where they could cut back. It’s amazing how much “extra money” you’ll find when you really put spotlight focus on where the money goes! If you’re trying to save money for a family vacation, cutting back in these ways can be a fun challenge.

La Jolla Shell beach with boy

Start by creating a log that shows you where every dollar is spent. I like to do this old school style, in a paper notebook each month. I can jot down expenses and income in one place. A Google spreadsheet is another easy place to log expenses. From here you can figure out where to start cutting back in big areas first then move to the small areas. True, some expenses will be harder to cut than others. But there are easy ways to save, as you’ll see!

Big Areas to Make Cut Backs in Your Budget

  • Do you have credit cards that carry interest? Before you even consider saving for a vacation, start paying those off in full. 
  • Check bank accounts and credit card statements at least once a week. When you put those on the back burner, it’s easy to spend more freely. By keeping a constant watch, you’ll see how quickly small purchases add up.
  • Schedule bills to pay automatically. Paying extra money towards late fees is a major step backwards.
  • Are you automatically paying monthly for something you’re not really using? Take a peek at your statements to see if you have subscriptions or monthly payments that could be cancelled.

More Big Ways to Save Money for a Family Vacation

  • Take advantage of off-peak hours with electricity (check with your utility company to find out best off-peak hours). We save a ton of money on our electric bill by only using our major appliances before 4 pm and after 9 pm.
  • Cut back on excessive holiday gifts to save money for a family vacation instead.
  • Are you on an every-6-weeks rotation at the hair salon and barber shop? Stretch that out to every 8 weeks or longer.
  • Rather than getting nails and pedicure done at the shop, alternate by doing them yourself at home.
  • Do you actually watch cable TV or could you cut out some of the channels? Or could you turn off cable completely?
  • Eliminate take out, restaurants and the fast food drive through from your budget diet. It’s much cheaper to buy groceries and eat at home (see more tips on how to save at the grocery store).
Minnie, Stitch, Donald and Daisy pose with mom and girl at Donald Duck's Seaside Breakfast
Save money eating at home so you can dine out on your vacation!

Negotiating Lower Rates

Companies are often open to negotiations on outstanding bills and monthly payments. It’s acceptable to call large companies and negotiate a lower monthly rate. We do this about every 6 months with our auto insurance and cell phone carrier. You’ll be surprised how easily they will work with you in order to keep you from switching! And it will save you hundreds of dollars a year.

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  • Gather up all your regular bills, including the cable bill and insurance bills like home owners, auto and life insurance policies.
  • Make notes on the interest rates and amounts due for each bill. 
  • Figure out ahead of time what you’ll be asking for and what you’ll settle for before negotiating.
  • Are there features you don’t really use or need? Ask about costs if these are removed from your contract.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager if you can’t work something out with the customer service agent.
  • Research if there a benefit to paying off the account in full each year (we do this with car insurance and it saves several hundred dollars versus making monthly payments).
  • If you have a large balance, the credit card company may be able to negotiate a payoff if you’re ready with cash in hand.

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Small Ways to Trim Your Spending

A dollar here and there. It all adds up very quickly. But there are simple ways to cut back, even if you do these only half of the time.

  • Pay only in cash. If you’re visibly watching the money leave your wallet, you might be less likely to spend than when you swipe the debit or credit card.
  • We’ve all heard how much we can save by cutting back on coffee house drinks and making our own at home. But it’s true! If you’re spending $4+ a day on coffee, this could be a huge weekly savings.
  • Turn off email notifications from retail stores that send coupons tempting you to spend.
  • Eating lunch out daily is another expense that adds up. Try meal prep and packing your own lunches to save big.
  • In what area could you switch out paid entertainment for free? Your kids are likely just as content playing at the park as they are going to the pay-to-play indoor play structure. Rather than paying for streaming services or rentals, try borrowing movies from the library at zero cost.

There are lots of things to families to do in Palm Spring. Find out the top 8 desert adventures including golfing, museums, and water parks. Lots of tips on where to stay and what to do in the California desert with kids of all ages.

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Food and grocery shopping can be one of the larger expenses in your daily budget. You have to eat and there are reasonable ways to save a lot in this area.

  • Aim to shop no more than once a week or every other week. The daily trips to the grocery often result in extra purchases.
  • Meal planning before you shop can help put a focus on your grocery needs. Plan out all breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for at least one week.
  • Plan meals around the grocery store sales. See what higher ticket items (like meats) are priced to sell that week, then plan out dishes around that item.
  • Create (and stick to) a shopping list. Avoid dawdling in the aisles and resist putting items into the cart that are not on the list.
  • Avoid shopping at convenience stores, where prices are at a premium.

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More Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

  • What are the cheaper generic options for some daily use items that you could opt for instead of the pricier name brands? 
  • Are you consistently throwing out wasted food? Try cooking smaller meals that result in fewer leftovers. Or plan the next day’s meal around the previous days leftover food (ie: fried rice with leftover rice and pork).
  • There’s no reason to completely eliminate treats, if it’s a conscious decision. Things like individual cones at the ice cream shop could cost a family of four $20+ dollars. But a gallon of ice cream from the grocery store costs less than $5. Making smart swaps like this can go a long way towards adding to the vacation fund!

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What Can You Live Without?

I’d rather plan another vacation than have cable television. That’s just me, but traveling is just more fun than watching TV. I make the choice to do without. What do you have that you could cut back on, freeing up more money for a trip? If you look ahead to your vacation and know exactly what you’re saving for, the sacrifice you take now will go a long way.

Before you start cutting things out completely, it’s very important to have this conversation with your family. Changes that eliminate things from the regular routine can cause children to protest. Yes, it can be hard to tell the kids NO when it comes to spending money on things they’re used to.

For my younger kids, I use a distraction technique. I’ll then remind them about our impending trip and how we’re using extra money towards our vacation. Bring up a certain part of the trip that you know your kids will want to talk about . Soon enough they’re excited about planning for their vacation, feeling more a part of the process. My kids even want to save their own money for vacation, using the ideas in this article.

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Things to Live Without When Budgeting for Vacation

This article suggested that parents should spend less on toys and take more vacations. I’m all for that. We save toy purchases only at Christmas and even then, we try to choose high-quality classic items that work for a wide age group.

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  • Consider a month of no extra expenses. This is an awesome way to kick-start a savings plan. Yes, it can be tough but it’s still worth the kick in the pants.
  • Stop saying yes to frivolous spending. That might mean you warn friends and family not to ask about spending ahead of time (ie: skipping a monthly dinner out, not spending in school fundraisers, etc.)
  • Avoid your favorite spending spots. For me, that’s Target!
  • Opt out of gift exchanges during the holiday season.
  • Eliminate all non-necessities from your spending. That means not dropping money at the school book fair or on toys at your kid’s request when out shopping.
  • Rather than planning all-out birthday parties for the kids, have a small birthday celebration at home. Save the few hundred dollars you would have spent on the party towards your family vacation instead.

Use Points to Pay for Trips

I’m not a huge credit card hacker but I do have a few practical and very easy tips for earmarking points towards travel. Attempting to earn credit card points only makes sense with responsible travel rewards credit card use. Pay off the balance each month and don’t carry interest on the cards. But if you have a knack for it, travel points hacking is an excellent way to save money for a family vacation.

If you always choose a particular airline to fly, consider opening a credit card through that company. You’ll likely receive bonus points for registration that can be used towards flights and travel. The Southwest airlines card is particularly beneficial as their Rapid Rewards points don’t expire. Plus, two checked bags fly free every time with Southwest and that’s an awesome savings perk!

Two More Credit Card Options

If you shop at Costco, their Costco Citi Bank Visa can be an excellent way to save for travel. We use our Visa for groceries, gas and utilities and receive a large check in return each year. You can take the check back to Costco for payment. They’ll pay you cash back or you can use the amount towards a purchase. On our last big road trip, I plotted out on a map where all the Costco gas stations are on our route. This helped us get gasoline at a great price and continue to earn big points back on our card!

Since we do a lot of Disney travel, I also have a Disney Visa that I use for Disney-related travel expenses. Sign up now through the link and earn a significant new card member bonus after qualifying purchases (a $200 statement credit with the Disney Premier Visa Card or a $100 statement credit with the Disney Visa Card).The points value might not be as great as some other credit cards, so do your research there. There are additional discounts through the Visa that might be worth it to you, especially at the theme parks. You’ll be able to use these “Disney Dollars” earned towards purchases in the park, air fare, at ShopDisney or when booking the actual vacation.

Get Paid for Shopping Online

Another simple way to save money for a family vacation is booking all travel online. I do that with links that track back to Rakuten. It works in several ways. You can go directly to the Rakuten website and click the tabs to shop (including a Travel and Vacation section). But my favorite is to add the Rakuten tracker directly to your computer.

You’ll shop online as you normally do. When shopping through a Rakuten partner, a pop-up will alert you to activate the Rakuten link. It’s as easy as a quick button click. Rakuten tracks the purchase and you’ll earn a percentage back. They’ll even remind you of coupon codes when available.

When you’re ready to cash out your balance, you can receive a a “Big Fat Check” in the mail. Or turn it around into an e-gift card to spend online (usually with a better return rate). When you sign up for Rakuten through this link, you’ll receive $30 into your account!

Little boy in Palm Springs desert slot canyon

Why Choose Travel Instead of Stuff?

Research tells us that family vacations have long-lasting impact on your child’s happiness. There isn’t a day that goes by when one of my kids brings up something that happened on one of our family trips. Whether it was a road trip, day trip, across the country or around the world, there are adventures to be discovered with our kids!

I know that seeing my children soaking in new experiences is going to have a greater impact on their lives than any gadget ever will. We will continue to save money for a family vacation, taking them every chance we can get. Choosing travel instead of buying more stuff is our family’s choice. If you’re trying to save money for a family vacation, set a travel goal and work together as a group to get there!

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